It was a good number of years back when a police chief in Oak Park told us he was waiting impatiently for retirements as he worked to remake the culture of his department. Eventually a class of officers, hired long ago when the Oak Park department went on a hiring spree, aged out and took their pensions. And the chief went to work in selecting and training a new generation of community policing-focused rookies.
Perhaps Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas would be more discreet, even in an off-the-record conversation. But we’ll say that a new and coming wave of retirements from Forest Park’s 38-member department sounds good to us. We are not impugning the reputation of all officers currently retiring or making exit plans.
We are saying that this department needs new blood, new energy. There are a disproportionate number of citizen accusations of mistreatment lobbed at this department. There have been too many internal tempests in this department over many years. And, of course, there has been a lot of good police work that is shaded by the shoddy work of some.
It is hard to bounce a bad or below-average cop — though, to his credit, Chief Aftanas has made the effort. That is, in part, why we have enthusiastic confidence that Aftanas is the leader who can inculcate a new generation of Forest Park cops with a vision of fair-minded, community-focused policing that will bring honor and respect to this department.
Any school, any school district, that wants to launch a difficult discussion only has to mention discipline. Defining it. Measuring it. Creating an approach. Executing that approach. Acknowledging race and class aspects of it. Acknowledging institutional bias that inevitably impacts discipline issues.
It’s complicated and it’s fascinating.
Ten years ago, Forest Park brought a program back to town from a conference somewhere. There remains some difference of opinion — probably time to let that go — about who exactly came home with the concept of PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports). Core to the notion, though, is that everybody in town needs to buy into the idea of connecting with our kids with an approach that celebrates positive interactions and moves quickly and consistently to address the times a child goes wrong.
The police department, the library, the schools, the community center, the park district were all integral to rolling out PBIS in Forest Park. And it worked. However, like a lot of things, over time funding and focus on PBIS dissipated.
With the June District 91 school board meeting offering the annual summary of school discipline challenges — it was the best of the times, it wasn’t so hot — this would be a good time to reconvene all the players in Forest Park to reinvigorate and reimagine a community-wide approach to raising up our kids.
At its best, Forest Park is the perfect place for this shared effort.